Practical Course 6 – Tibetan Debate

Lecturer: Losang Donyo
Fields: Communication/Philosophy of Science/ Logic



Civil discourse is the hallmark of any society that cherishes the creation and discovery of new knowledge. Along the way, we manage to frequently misunderstand each other. While many psychological factors can be blamed for the difficulties in communication, it is also reasonable to consider the very language we use may be a source of misunderstanding and confusion.

Nalanda Tradition Debate (aka Tibetan monastic debate) offers practitioners a structured format of dialogue that allows two interlocutors to stay focused on a single topic and to explore issues related to it in a thorough, step-by-step, logical manner, all the while avoiding the need to learn any symbolism or complex formulae.

One of the key components is the unique style of consequential reasoning (i.e., reductio ad absurdum) where the position of the answering party is assumed by the questioner and then is used to draw out hidden contradictions within the mind of the answering party. This brings the entire dialogue into a playful realm of stretching the mind to imagine the position of one’s opponent. It thus becomes a training in perspective-taking, improving one’s mental flexibility. The rigor of the format trains working memory and logic, and reveals layers of cognitive biases.

While Nalanda Tradition Debate has historically been used to address philosophical and scientific issues that pertain most directly to a spiritual aspirants’ mental and spiritual training, it is perfectly suited for the contemporary scientist and the questions that arise in both the classroom and the lab.

This course will introduce participants to the debate format and how it can be used to address pertinent issues in science. The course will proceed by analyzing the construct of mindfulness and using that as a basis for debate. All students will be encouraged to experiment with the debate format directly.



Losang Donyo

Losang Donyo is a Tibetan Buddhist monk originally from Brooklyn, NY. He withdrew from college after a Buddhist Studies study abroad program in Bodhgaya, India whereupon he went to engage in monastic training at Sravasti Abbey, Newport, WA under the mentorship of Venerable Thubten Chodron. He began Tibetan language studies at Sarah College in Dharamsala, India and then entered the philosophy/debate program at the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics. After taking monastic vows, he transferred to Sera Jey Monastic University in 2018 and is now in the 5th year of studies in the traditional Geshe curriculum. Together with Marieke van Vugt and Stefan Riegl, he co-taught an experimental Winter Debate School in January, 2021.

Affiliation: Sera Jey Monastic University